About the YHA Historical Profiles project

John Martin has been making his historical profiles available on this site. Here, in a guest post, he writes about the history of the project and explains how he became involved.

Rock Hall, courtesy YHA Archive

I’ve been involved with archiving the records of the British and Irish youth hostels associations since 2000, but my interest in hostels, their history and development goes back much further than that – to 1961, in fact.

I started work as volunteer archivist for YHA (England and Wales) in 2005, and was soon aware of the treasures passing through my hands on their way to the YHA Archive at the Cadbury Research Library.

Various requests from the four associations and individuals had already led to my compiling databases of the complete networks (along with fellow enthusiasts Trevor Key and Graham Davies), gathering archive material and digitising large quantities of photographic material; further requests from the public (the first for Dacre Banks and Canterbury) led to illustrated articles about those hostels. Once the Cadbury Research Library connection was established in 2009, YHA (E&W) and I worked together on a project to complete more Profiles.

By 2016, there were 100 and by the end of 2019 (which turned out to be horribly significant), 148.

At this stage, all Profiles had been printed and placed in neat folders, one copy for YHA Head Office, Matlock, one for the Cadbury Research Library (along with digital version) and, if in the current network, one for the hostel manager to display.

During the first part of lockdown, unable to travel over the network, I concentrated on updating all of these to 1st January 2020, in digital format. Printing became impractical. Nevertheless, I continued to produce new Profiles, especially with the intention of covering the current network by the end of 2023.

Just as important, in my view, are histories of the old-timers, the long-lived servants of YHA that bowed out after 50, 60 or 70 years for a great variety of reasons – Rock Hall, Saltburn, Woody’s Top, Ivinghoe, Saffron Walden, Highgate, Patcham and Duntisbourne Abbots, for example – and those that struggled for just a few years, or were perpetually old fashioned or malnourished, or were closed by war or lease running out or by condition or being ‘in the wrong place’ – Wholehope, Rothley Shiel, Alston Sun Inn, Kirkby Malzeard, Buntingford, Lewes YMCA, Ottery St Mary, for instance. All have an important story to tell.

All the above are covered in completed Profiles, which now number over 180.

Many examples cover two or more hostels, in geographical proximity or replacements in chronological order, so that YHA is now represented by 350 or so hostel descriptions, almost a third of the all-time total.

I welcome feedback, comments and notification of errors and, if possible, requests to fill in a missing favourite. The Profiles are intended to be adaptable; from time to time I have produce essential revisions as new information has come to light.

John Martin.

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